Ha-Joon Chang's iconoclastic book on the follies of untrammelled free-market economics was published shortly after the financial meltdown of 2008, but its messages remain relevant today: we still live in a world that teeters on the brink of monetary collapse. The damage wrought by the global crash was second only to the Great Depression, and its legacy - in terms of poverty, social stability and the impact on economic growth - may last for decades.
The author's premise is that thirty years of free-market ideology was at the root of the catastrophe and that, worryingly, the world has not learned from the experience. The next disaster may be just around the corner.
In spite of what the title suggests, "23 Things" is not a rabid attack on capitalism itself. There is much here to anger those from both the Political Left and the Political Right. It is more a thoughtful analysis of some of the underlying assumptions relating to the American 'brand' of capitalism, how they have spread across the globe and how such underpinning philosophies can be short-sighted and dangerous.
Ha-Joon Chang (who teaches at the Faculty of Economics at Cambridge, if you're interested) slices and dices economic statistics from the 1960s to the present day to show us that many of our deeply-held beliefs about education, the world's poor and the so-called 'post-industrial age' contain fatal flaws. Tellingly, he points out that the very free-market policies being forced on the developing nations are precisely NOT the policies pursued by the developed countries of the world while they were building their wealth.
The author is an economist who kinows the limitations of economics as a means of building a world fit for people to live in. He echoes Winston Churchill's view on democracy by asserting, "Capitalism is the worst economic system except for all the others", but unlike many merchants of doom he offers eight concrete suggestions on how to rebuild the world economy.
All in all, "23 Things" is a thought-provoking book and one which is written in a style that makes it accessible to the general reader not just to the disciples of the 'dismal science' of economics.